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Could Life on Mars Flourish with Sustainably Managed Forests?

Could Life on Mars Flourish with Sustainably Managed Forests?

The red planet is one of the last places you would normally associate with sustainability. Yet, this might just change in the near future.

A team of engineers and architects at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently won the Mars City Design competition with their buildings that are designed to not only sustain human life but also forest and plant life.

They are calling their winning urban designs the Redwood Forest.  These artificial forests will involve creating domes that contain large tree habitats that can support up to 50 people with food, water, and oxygen resources.

Image supplied by Pixabay distributed under CC-BY 2.0 License

The Redwood Forest might consist of individual forest domes but live in these domes will hardly be isolated.  According to their proposal, these domes would provide residents with plenty of open areas, public spaces, plants, water, activities and residents would be responsible for maintaining forest sustainability within the domes.  The domes will also be interlinked with underground tunnels that will enable residents to move from one tree habitat to another.  In total, these domes will support a community of thousands of people.

The Redwood Forest domes are also designed to provide residents and forests with all the needed protection from cosmic radiation, micrometeorite impacts, thermal variations and much more.

Valentia Sumini and Assistant Professor Caitlin Mueller lead the team effort and they had the following to say about their genius invention; “On Mars, our city will physically and functionally mimic a forest, using local Martian resources such as ice and water, regolith (or soil), and sun to support life.”

Architect George Lordos, who was responsible for the design of the pods, created his design to harness the energy of the sun to support human and plant life and to harbor water resources as much as possible within plant life.  He also included plans for electric vehicles that are designed to make life and transportation between pods much simpler and more sustainable.

Sustainable Forests

Forests create atmospheres conducive to human life and their growth cycles provide us with raw materials we need to support civilization. If it’s true that life on Mars could best support humans by growing sustainable forests, then why would the same not be true on Earth?  Every part of a tree can be used and recycled. Nature’s Packaging supports the increased use of recyclable wood pallets when sourced from sustainably managed forests.

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The Importance of Woody Biomass Products in Sustainability

The Importance of Woody Biomass Products in Sustainability

There is a growing understanding and acceptance in this country about the huge role that woody biomass plays, both now and in the future, toward conserving resources and overall sustainability of the environment. The term ‘woody biomass’ references the totality of forest components such as trees, limbs, needles, wood wastes and residues, and even discarded wood waste from municipalities. Improved forest sustainability depends heavily on developing consistent uses for forest biomass.

Wood-based products contribute to sustainability

North American forests represent a renewable resource, unlike fossil-based fuels which will eventually run out and be completely gone. Trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere as they grow and they continue to store carbon throughout their life cycles. This is a big factor in the need for making greater use of woody biomass in as many products as possible which are in some way, used by humans. In many European countries, wood-based fuels are already being substituted for fossil fuels, as heat and electricity is generated from woody biomass in the form of wood pellets. There are a plethora of other uses for woody biomass, such as mulch, paper products, and even clothing. The enormous diversity of products which can be derived from wood has yet to be fully capitalized upon, but important new discoveries are encouraged by governments and the scientific community.

For instance, in 2016, three teen-aged girls from Dubai invented a wood-based fireproof foam which can be used as an insulator for construction purposes. After the country experienced a rash of headline-grabbing fires, the girls researched them and found that they were all made worse because polystyrene foam insulation was used in the buildings, and it was discovered this material actually stimulated the spread and intensity of the fires.

The girls’ innovative wood-based foam creation is cheaper to make from wood, is just as good an insulator, it acts as a fire retardant. Plus, it is a sustainable solution. This is the kind of innovative thinking which can take far greater advantage of woody biomass to create useful solutions for the future that take advantage of renewable resources.

Other advantages offered by woody biomass

Woody biomass contributes in a number of other ways as well to the more efficient usage of our country’s resources. According to its website, the U.S. Forest Service removes tons of biomass from forests each year. In rural areas, woody biomass is often converted to energy, but other benefits of removing woody biomass from forests include job creation, reduced dependence on fossil fuels, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved drinking water, forest fire prevention, and improvement to wildlife habitat.

It is no exaggeration to say that the considerable positive effects imparted by woody biomass extend deep into the social, economic, and environmental aspects of life in this country, and that influence will be felt even more in the coming years. Within the framework of sustainability, woody biomass is a prime example of resources critical to the future of global sustainability and reduced carbon emissions.

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Fashion Start-Ups Use Wood-Based, Cotton Alternatives

Fashion Start-Ups Use Wood-Based, Cotton Alternatives

For a great many years now, cotton has been touted as the ultimate fabric for the manufacture of all kinds of clothing, due to its natural, breathable composition and its comfortable feel against the skin. However, according to Waterfootprint.org, cotton farming requires the most amount of water in the apparel supply chain. In the case of making a single T-shirt, research from National Geographic estimates that 2,700 liters of water is required, from beginning to end.

In addition, it literally requires acres and acres of land to grow any significant amount of cotton plants, and a great deal of water is consumed in the nurturing of those plants. From this, it should be fairly obvious that any kind of new direction for the world of fashion is long overdue and that new direction seems now to have arrived, in the form of wood-based alternatives for the manufacture of clothing.

Wood-based alternative clothing

An Austrian manufacturer, Lenzing AG, has been developing environmentally friendly clothing for several years now, by converting eucalyptus tree pulp into a fiber which mimics cotton’s breathable nature, but is also far softer to the touch, and much less susceptible to wrinkling. In the year 2000, Lenzing was given a prestigious award by the European Commission, for its forward-thinking contributions to conservation of the environment in making wood-based clothing alternatives.

This wood-based clothing product is known as Tencel, and it is being adopted by more fashion companies around the world each year. Since the entire production process for Tencel is much less impactful to the environment, it has become one of the most popular new fabrics, especially for all those who feel a responsibility for the conservation of the global environment.

Other creative and environmentally friendly products are appearing as well, to contribute to this new direction of the fashion industry. A 17-year old teenager named Sian Healy recently became a finalist in the Miss England competition, while wearing a dress made for her by Pooling Partners, and which was entirely constructed from old wooden pallets. While this kind of special-purpose dress may not be economically viable for mass production, it does at least point out the possibilities for using wood-based materials as an alternative to the traditional ones used commonly in clothing manufacture.

Beyond Tencel

In Culver City, California, another startup company called MeUndies, has developed a fashion line of men’s and women’s underwear, all made from wood pulp fiber which has the appealing property of wicking moisture away from the body. Called MicroModal, it uses beechwood rather than Tencel’s eucalyptus fibers, and is garnering strong appeal for its comfort and sustainable characteristics. Additionally, another fashion designer based in London named Alice Asquith has launched a line of towels, bearing her name, which are made from bamboo fibers and have far greater softness, durability, and absorptive qualities than traditional cotton towels.

Other startups are emerging around the world to take advantage of some of the wonderful characteristics provided by wood-based fabrics, which are much friendlier to the environment than some existing materials. Whereas plants like cotton are farmed with the intent of manufacturing clothes, wood-based based fabrics use wood by-products as their main ingredient. By developing effective uses for these parts of the forest that would normally go to waste, clothing manufacturers are doing their part to make sure that every part of a tree is used when it’s harvested.

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The Recycling Symbol

Wood Pallets Are Diverted from Landfills

Wood Pallets Are Diverted from Landfills

In the year 2014, approximately 258 million tons of waste materials were generated by Americans and eventually reached various landfills stationed around the country. A report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broke down the components of this enormous tonnage as follows: 28.2% was comprised of food waste and yard trimmings, 26% was attributable to paper and cardboard products, plastics accounted for 13% of the total, rubber and textiles contributed 9%, metals were 9%, wood products made up 6%, and glass accounted for 4% of the total.

Photograph by Wikimedia; distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

More good news about landfills

Consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, a globally known corporate giant, has pledged to keep plastics entirely out of landfills by the year 2020. Plastics aren’t the only by-product of manufacturing that the company intends to shield from landfills though. It has announced that other by-products will be recycled right at the manufacturing locations as well, so there is no need for shipping them to landfills.
Using a process that shreds previously unwanted materials and compressing them into sheets, they can be used as building materials, says the company. The stated landfill avoidance goal of the company is to achieve zero percent waste materials that need to be shipped off-site, and instead recycle them all into materials usable for other industries and applications.

Wood pallet landfill avoidance

One of the biggest landfill avoidance undertakings that currently goes on, and is expected to increase, is that of recycling wooden pallets. According to the research published in “Pallet Reuse and Recycling Saves High Value Material from Landfills”, in 1992, only about 50 million wood pallets were recovered from landfills and recycled for further usage. Three years later, that figure jumped to 150 million pallets, and by 2006, the number had increased to over 350 million. By recycling so many pallets, it has been calculated that 5.7 billion board feet of lumber were saved in this country, by not having to produce new pallets from freshly cut lumber.
Wood pallet recyclability has been steadily increasing because lumber is a valuable and limited resource. To discard it in a landfill would truly be a waste. New studies are currently being conducted to determine how many wood pallets are diverted from landfills.

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ISPM 15 and Sustainability

History of ISPM 15

The International Stands for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15, referred to in the industry as ISPM 15, is an International Phytosanitary Measure developed by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). According to its documentation, the primary goal is to “reduce the risk of introduction and spread of quarantine pests associated with the movement in international trade of wood packaging material made from raw wood.” The language is comprehensive, covering all forms of wood packaging that serve as pathways for pests that could pose a risk to living trees.

The IPPC is a multilateral treaty signed into effect on December 6, 1951. As of 2010, 74 countries participate in the program. According to the IPPC, the “ISPMs provide globally harmonized guidance for countries to minimize pest risk without creating unjustified barriers to trade, ultimately facilitating their exports and imports of plants and plant products.”

How Wood Packaging Companies Comply

In North America, if a wood products company wants to export lumber then they must comply with the program. The most common way for companies to comply with ISPM 15 standards is by heat treating lumber. In order for lumber to meet these standards, the internal temperature of the timber must reach 56 degrees Celsius or 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes in a kiln. Certain types of lumber, such as plywood, oriented-strand board (OSB), and sawdust are exempt from these standards as they are exposed to the heat-treating requirements during the manufacturing process. The purpose of heat treating lumber to meet ISPM 15 standards is to reduce the risk of spreading wood boring insects.

Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Wood packaging companies that participate in the ISPM 15 program are assigned a stamp with a unique number and that stamp must be clearly applied to all products used in export. They must keep written logs of incoming heat treated lumber and any outgoing orders where the stamp was used. Compliance is monitored and enforced by third party companies that make unscheduled monthly visits to the wood products companies to ensure all rules and regulations are followed. Some of the largest North American inspection companies are Timber Products, Pacific Lumber Inspection Bureau, and West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau and they work closely with the United States and Canadian governments. If a wood product company doesn’t follow the rules of the program, they can get their stamp revoked and they won’t be allowed to certify lumber products for export.

ISPM 15 and Sustainability

Lumber and other wood packaging companies across North America have widely adopted the ISPM 15 standards and these standards are intended to help protect our forests from wood-boring pests. According to ISPM 15 language, “Pests associated with wood packaging material are known to have negative impacts on forest health and biodiversity. Implementation of this standard is considered to reduce significantly the spread of pests and subsequently their negative impacts.” By adopting ISPM-15 protocols into the manufacturing processes and by achieving the high levels of industry compliance, the wood packaging industry will enhance its role as stewards of the resource, reducing the risk of spreading wood-boring insects which results in elevating the sustainability of the products we produce.

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